According to reports, universities and colleges are extensively using solar energy for some of their domestic needs. But it remains that their survival is based on diesel-powered gensets in the face of long hours of unscheduled power cuts.
Though reeling under heavy expenditure, most of the institutions try to ensure that classes and laboratory hours are not interrupted by the power cut. College managements say that sometimes the gensets stop only because of overheating from having been switched on for over six to eight hours.
PSG College of Technology that ensures round-the-clock power supply to not only the academic areas, but also the domestic such as canteen and hostel, uses solar energy for lighting up common areas and heating water for students in hostels. It also uses energy from the 1 MW capacity windmill that is installed on a rooftop.
According to S. Balachandran, Head, Department of Energy Engineering, the college is looking at bio-mass in the place of gas and increasing the number of windmills. However, total switch over to alternative sources of energy is not a viable solution. The main dependence will continue to be on diesel. The college incurs a cost of Rs. 15 per unit while as against the normal Rs. 5 per unit without genset.
Voicing the same opinion, Sheela Ramachandran, Vice-Chancellor of Avinashilingam University for Women, says that the university is exploring options of increasing the dependence on solar energy for common area lighting and powering UPS in hostels.
“Academic and research work of the students cannot be interrupted. Hence, the mainstay in times of power cuts, which on an average exceeds six hours, will be the genset. With the right attitude and a shift in mindset, educational institutions can explore more possibilities using solar energy,” she says.
Uninterrupted power supply is also ensured in many institutions in libraries and communication area where students work online.
Some colleges try to reschedule the laboratory hours after the class hours so that the power load is distributed. But in some cases as in the case of the Department of Zoology, Bharathiar University, its Head K. Sasikala says that no risk can be taken because the experiments involve chromosomal studies that cannot be interrupted once begun. Hence, the laboratory of the Department is wholly dependent on the genset.
T. Dheepan, managing trustee of Sri Shakthi Institute of Engineering and Technology, says that even when there is normal power, the genset is switched on because the normal power cables take on only 110 KVA load while the estimated load during peak working hours is 250 KVA. The college uses nearly 9,000 litres of diesel costing almost Rs. 4.5 lakh a month.
Many other colleges too incur an additional expenditure of a few lakh rupees every month.